Kati Marton on Her Marriages to Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke, Loss and Grief

Kati Marton on Her Marriages to Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke, Loss and Grief


Kati Marton was in New York when her
husband called from Washington I feel a pain I’ve never felt he told her
from the ambulance Ambassador Richard Holbrooke had collapsed in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office He died soon after. In dealing with her
grief Kati decided to go to Paris where they
had first started their romance. She writes about her life with Richard
Holbrooke as well as her 15-year marriage to newsman Peter Jennings in a memoir. It’s called Paris A Love
Story. Kati Marton is an award-winning author
and journalist and she joins me in the studio Kati welcome to the program. Thanks Mimi
thanks for having me great to be here You said that it seemed after Richard had
died that he had disappeared what do you mean
by that? Well it was just so sudden I mean he he wasn’t sick there was
absolutely no warning no preparation as as you as you said. An hour before uh he he collapsed we were we were on the phone um and hour before that he uh we were
planning our Christmas vacation this was a year and a half ago and uh Richard you know a lot of
cliches have been attached to to Richard Holbrooke a hard-driving
larger-than-life Bulldozer? Yes, among others and uh there never was a more vital
human being he was very robust it is true that um he had one of the most stressful jobs in
in the government he he was in charge of um Pakistan and Afghanistan for President
Obama and and that he was traveling to some pretty awful places and uh
keeping hours that uh that a man half his age shouldn’t keep. But no indication that he had that he was sick? No none. He wasn’t in any pain? None none None whatsoever which is of course a
a great blessing for him but the shock for me was was was total I um really uh was shattered uh we’d been together
for 17 years and um i write in um in the book that uh that the year prior
I had these these I’m Hungarian and therefore
superstitious and I had I had these these dreams that that um that I was going to be struck
down from my good fortune that things were going too well that you know the gods will punish you
if you’re too happy and things were going well for us
Richard was granted he had a very tough job but it
was work he loved and our kids were doing well and I had
just written uh my family’s uh memoir Enemies Of The People which
had you know beautiful reviews and you know things were going so well and when
these late-night fears circled I uh my my first thought was to
my children because Richard was indestructible he would always be there
to pick up the pieces Kati what was his condition when you
got to the hospital Well um he was he was already um being operated on by this amazing team at the GW hospital here that uh ironically it was a Pakistani surgeon who was operating on him and he and he
seemed to be extremely aware of who he was operating on and you know a man who was
trying to bring Pakistan back from the brink for 21 hours they operated on and Richard
never regained uh consciousness so. Even.. Our last our last words were in were were when he called for the
ambulance which you just cited and my last words to my husband were I’m on my
way Before being sedated for surgery he
he joked with his doctors Yes typically. And he said see what
you can do about ending this war while I’m over in there. Right, right yes Yes I mean it’ so typical that the I
subsequently learned from uh of course I was very interested
in his his last words and and I subsequently learned from the from the nurses and doctors that that a one of the doctors said said to him
um when they were trying to sedate him, uh ah no easy matter with Richard
Holbrooke uh think about something beautiful and he said my wife
Kati and um yes sorry Richard Holbrooke always be remembered
for his role in ending the hostilities in Bosnia with the Dayton-yes- Peace Accords President Obama as you said um assigned him to be special envoy to
Pakistan and Afghanistan was he frustrated Kati with the lack of progress there? Oh sure yes absolutely he was dealing with uh with with the
most impossible allies if what could call them that up imaginable, tougher than than uh then bringing peace to to uh Bosnia because
He recognized that? oh yes oh yes i mean there there were
just so many um dimensions to this problem and so
many so many layers and and so many um
countries involved and and when you’re dealing with your
allies as Afghanistan and Pakistan are nominally are our allies you can’t
threaten with bombs as as Richard effectively while conducting diplomacy. Right. Uh. with with uh. Slobodan Milosevic the
President of Serbia he could threaten an airstrike yes and
and did and and it it did bring them to the table but here
no uh and and you’re dealing with with um a nuclear-powered Pakistan uh which is also providing sanctuary
to to the Taliban and uh the consequences ah could not have been of greater import
which is what appealed to Richard. Richard liked to be in a place of maximum complexity um solving
problems that motivated him That’s who he was he was a problem
solver. You know Pakistani President Zardari had traveled to Washington to be at uh Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service
and he told you about his grief after his wife Benazir Bhutto-yes- was
assassinated That was very touching actually he first of
all that that he would come all this way um to the Kennedy Center memorial and then he insisted on seeing me and he
said um he said you know Kati um you have to
let yourself um feel the grief and you have to allow yourself that that pain it was
suddenly it wasn’t a head of state talking to
to a a widow it was a widower talking to a widow and he said he said Benazir’s things are as she left them uh her beads
are on the on on her dressing table her saris hang in the closet um. This was three years
later. yes yes uh so I was very very very touched by that it was it was
uh very emotional Kati Marton is the author of seven books
she’s an award-winning former NPR and ABC news correspondent
she was married to the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke and her memoir is called Paris A Love
Story Your family fled Hungary when you were a
child what were the circumstances? Well um I had a very dramatic childhood I’ve I I kinda felt that I you
know earned my uh you know put in put in my drama early on so that I was going to get a free ride the rest of the way but that. But you were not so lucky. that was that was not the but but I want
to say Mimi to to to uh you know this because you’ve
read the book that this really isn’t a book about grief it’s really about
getting past grief to as much as President
Zardari um hasn’t moved anything that Benazir
left I’ve chosen a different path uh in in in my Richard is with me and will be
forever but uh Richard would not want me to be uh paralyzed by grief and and so this
book is really about going from a loss to life because none
of us as I learned bitterly none of us escapes loss sooner or later uh uh uh a harsh blow will
find all of us and maybe because you just asked about
my early years and and the circumstances of my leaving Budapest maybe because I went
through something tough as a little kid that is to say both my parents were
arrested uh when I was six years old and in
during cold war uh the Cold War period in Budapest
Hungary where where I was born and raised and and I
in my mother’s case I opened the door to her jailers and and I
didn’t see her for a year and my father had already been arrested
and I didn’t see him for two years so maybe I have a survival gene from
that period which was which was a very tough period because
because because we my sister and I uh did not know where our parents were or how long. Right when
they would come back we’d be separated from them so I’m not,
I I don’t like separations very much I don’t do too well with separations. You
eventually after coming to the United States you went back to Europe as a foreign
correspondent for ABC News Yes. That that was nineteen seventy-eight and there you met Peter Jennings. Yes. And let’s just say you two hit it off.
Yea, well not right away we were mutually unimpressed by our first
meeting its kind of a scene from Pride and Prejudice you know when when Mister Darcy meets Elizabeth I thought he was a jerk actually. That’s true it was just like that Yeah we were not impressed by each other
he thought I–he overheard me making plans uh, this was my first week as a foreign
correspondent and of course Peter Jennings was by then uh you know a superstar James Bond he was
called Peter of Arabia he was unbelievably good looking
and of course even even when I thought what a jerk
I thought wow he’s so good looking too But uh we didn’t we didn’t our our our mutual uh hostility at
first meeting did not last very long. Now you said this in
your book quote from the earliest days the strains of
a love affair between two emotionally needy and ambitious people
were apparent What did you mean by that? Well just that
you know this is an honest book this is not uh uh I I I don’t I don’t varnish uh who I am or who Richard was or who
Peter was though these are public men they are human beings first of all made of the
same human stuff as the rest of us obviously I’m all too
human and you know we we um we are none
of us paragons of perfection I and and that is
not how I portray them I hope you agree that I portray both both Richard and
Peter with with great respect and and
great love actually because Peter Peter became the father of my children so you know that’s a relationship that
that uh that is lifelong But you loved your job at ABC News why did you quit? After you married Peter. Um, Peter was a uh sort of a male chauvinist he didn’t he
although when he met me I was already an ABC correspondent, he really wanted his wife
to to be primarily focused on him and uh not to be traveling all over the
place and in those days ABC wasn’t too
excited about having a married couple in the same news division either so I I decided that
I would uh um as after after our the the birth of our first child
Elizabeth I decided that I’d try my hand at writing I was on maternity leave so
intending to go back but really was losing my enthusiasm for
going back And you became a great writer. You wrote seven books. Well thank you this is the eighth actually so You did move to New York for Peter’s job. What impact did that
move have on you and your family? Oh huge Um Peter became the you know America’s
number one anchor and uh but inside our family unit uh there was a huge loss of privacy in
between us loss of intimacy the to be the
network anchor is a super stressful position and and we really lived from from one
ratings to the next and they were always coming
and uh uh tremendous stress and and virtually
no privacy I mean the minute we left our apartment there the privacy was over uh people recognized him you know i i
describe in in the book the the the really really sad poignant uh scene where where where
uh many years after after our marriage um we were married for 15 years but by now
the marriage has sadly uh collapsed un he called Peter called
me and uh asked me to meet him in Central Park and he had some devastating news to
deliver he wanted me to be the first to know that
he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and uh of course I burst out
in tears and um and he you know he pulled me
ever deeper into the park but everywhere we went people recognized him
and I said geez the you know even. They can
never let you be. Not for a minute and any just
shrugged that was that was his life but it’s very hard to to to live a quote
normal life with with the person who is that
recognized The book were discussing is called Paris
a Love Story it’s a memoir of Kati Marton she’s the author of now eight books
and she’s an award-winning former NPR and ABC news correspondent Kati you had a lot of ambition as a
young woman how did that ambition evolve as you grew
older Well like most of us I’ve had to uh compromise um II I was ambitious not only to have a
a good professional life but also to have a family and that was that proved tough with with
Peter because um it was it was just too too stressful to be foreign
correspondent and and the mother of his children and
and to have such frankly high maintenance um marriage writing which which is what I which is what I came to by by default proved much more accommodating to to both my role as a as a mother and and
a wife I found that you know I could I could
write while the kids were were in school and uh and be available to
them when they got home. Was it just as
fulfilling though as your days as a correspondent? No no different different sense of fulfillment I didn’t get this the same adrenaline
rush that I would get uh when when I was live on on ABC or reporting from up from a war zone I
covered my share uh but it was in some ways uh a more lasting reward because you know the
books I’ve written uh they’re on my
bookshelf and they’re on a lot of other people’s
bookshelves and in libraries and so I feel that I’m proud of
each one each one uh took years to write and and and uh you know there’s there’s serious efforts and my name is not exactly in lights the way I I I guessed as a
little girl I dreamed it might be but uh but I’ve had a good good long run and and I can keep I can
keep writing I can’t imagine not writing anymore. How would you compare your 15-year marriage with Peter
Jennings with your 15-year marriage with Richard Holbrooke? Oh gosh there so different I suppose what they have in common other than that they both seemed to like
me was that uh uh they were they were both extremely uh high-achieving triple a personalities but uh Richard was believe it or not
far more self-confident than than Peter. Peter for all his his
great talent his great good looks fame wealth whatever whatever was deeply uh self, deeply insecure and I think partly because he never
finished high school so he he uh he had the sense that he
was pulling one off on the world that he was a fraud in
I used to tease him that he actually married me for my advanced degrees of which I have several and but it was it was not entirely a joke because he Peter
always over-prepared for interviews and that was part of of of what gave him that edge that that he
had so he was insecure and insecure people can be uh difficult to live with
because uh he was very critical first all of himself
but also extremely critical of me and I describe in the book one sort of semi
amusing scene where we’re on route to have dinner uh with uh Prince Charles and and
Princess Diana and I frankly thought I looked like a
million bucks I’d spent all afternoon getting dressed and I had on this this uh black velvet strapless dress and in the car on the way to this dinner
here in washington DC Peter looked at me with that kinda
quizzical killer look of his and said are you sure you wanna wear that? Oh no. there went my whole self-confidence like
air out of a balloon and I spent all I I was seated next to Prince Charles
and I spent all night fussing with my with the the top of my
dress to make sure I wasn’t offending his his Royal Highness. Why did you go to
Paris after Richard’s death what we looking
for there? Escape. I was looking to get away I found
that I couldn’t get on with my life and uh Paris was a
place where he and I lived our best times even in
the two years that he was working for
President Obama in Afghanistan we would meet in Paris and that so that that was our our kinda of R and R place but long
before that Paris was sort of the city where I became who I am
as a as a teenager I went there and out studied at the Sorbonne and spoke good
French because I had learned French along with Hungarian in in my Budapest childhood and then it
Paris is where Peter and I had our romance so I described that the different my
different life lives in in Paris different um in in 1968 when I was a
student and then got caught up in the in the uh student uprising there which was
a very serious business and kinda freaked me out because it was my second revolution because as a
little girl I had witnesed the the the very bloody uprising in in
in uh Budapest and so then I so I left Paris in in um in fear and in haste in in 68 as a student and then and then had this amazing romantic time there
with Peter and then it’s really where Richard and I
got together so I wanted to I was looking for escape after after
terrible shock after terrible grief um following Richard’s death but I also
wanted to reconnect to the me that that was before Richard and before Peter and the me that that seem kind of lost over the years
and I’ve I’ve I think I’ve done that Paris is a
place of such such unbelievable beauty and resonance it’s I think beauty calms the
soul and uh also I didn’t have quite as
many reminders of Richard because Richard and I
didn’t have a daily life in Paris the way in in New
York everything every tree reminds me of our
daily life and so in Paris I have found healing and uh and also reconnection with um with with the former me The memoir were discussing is called
Paris a Love Story Kati Marton is the author of eight books
she’s an award-winning former NPR and ABC news correspondent and she was
married to the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke You wrote this about your time in Paris
quote grief imposes its own rhythms my feelings of loss and sadness
collide with an appetite for life I’ve never felt since I was a girl here
in 1968 An appetite for life? I This this may
sound strange but when uh when you’ve experience the kind
of shock that I did with Richard’s entirely unexpected death you realize
how elusive life is and that you basically
cannot count on on anything so forget future planning
this is it right now this is it this is this is
your life this is my life and we might as well just squeeze that
lemon for all it’s worth because uh because nothing is is guaranteed and so you know the irony is
that that even while I’ve been grieving I’ve been I’ve been really trying to
savor life it’s it sometimes um not so easy to do
that but um but but I I um had a letter from the great writer Joan Didion
shortly after Richard died you know her book
The Year of Magical Thinking is it’s a devastating account of her husband’s
death and uh in her note that she uh dropped off at my apartment she said dear
Kari I woke up this morning and I thought about you and I thought of
all the mornings that you will wake up and think about Richard and I thought wow I mean that’s thats beautiful but I don’t wanna wake up sad every
morning for the rest of my life I’ve got to get
past this I’ve got to assimilate this this this terrible hole in my heart but by live with it and and bring Richard
along with me because holy cow 17 amazing years with
this man you know we really lived uh really in the
front line of history and um and that part of my life is is over but but it is part of me just as just as you know the trauma of of my
Budapest childhood is is part of who I am and just as you
know my my failed if I have to call it that my failed marriage to the father of my
children Peter Jennings that that too is who I am uh I am all of these things but I am but
I still have other lives to live and so in a way my my book is is the opposite of Joan Didion’s book
which is really about grief my book is not about grief my book is
about the fact that that loss finds all of us but then we have to find our way through
it and you know sometimes its its it’s
pretty hard I mean I I you know i i sound I sound uh entirely confident that I’m doing this
but of course there are there are moments unexpected moments when when it you know I’m just hit like it’s
like a body blow with the loss but its this is this is the human condition. Have you thought
about remarrying? No, no it’s too soon it’s too soon I I think about living a
full life and I and I’ve never been alone until
now I mean I’m not proud of that but I you
know I went from from my from my family to marriage
you know fifteen years with Peter seventeen with Richard and that’s it boom that’s been my life so you know it
sounds a little retarded but I’m having to figure out stuff now that that a lot of people
figure out in their in in their twenties and thirties you
know making my way in the world on my own but but on the other hand I’m I’m not
entirely alone I have wonderful children and work work is so important you know I I
started writing this this book almost immediately after
Richard’s death it started as a as a I I kept a journal when I couldn’t sleep
at night and and that’s why I think people who’ve
read it uh have have noted that it it feels like
you’re actually living living it living this this drama uh and that’s because I was writing in
in real time and uh also is partly based on on
letters too that that uh I found uh I’ve had to clean out our our home of many
many years um because it’s it’s too big and and to
full of ghosts and and in in that process I’ve I found these
amazing letters that between Peter and me and Richard and me
and also letters that I wrote to my parents from Paris. So Kati
what do you recommend to others who might be grieving the
loss of a loved one well um that that there is life after loss there has to be and that the the best way to honor the people that we
love is to bring them along with us um to to really assimilate who they are I mean I can hear I can
Richard’s voice all the time and he’s not telling Kati don’t get
outta bed stay home and weep because I’m not there anymore to fix things
for you he’s telling me girl get outta here and and you know roll up your sleeves and
and live because guess what you’re still alive and uh how lucky are you you know to be
alive on such a beautiful summer day and and to be meeting interesting
people like you Mimi and you know unexpected unexpected
things happen if you’re if you’re open to that if
you’re if you’re open to living open to life so I I think this is
actually a very much a life affirming book I wanna end with a quote from your book
that I thought was just so beautiful it’s this I am loved therefore I am that was me now Who Am I it’s not the
grand romantic moments that forge a couple it’s the daily granular sharing of the
most trivial details of life that forged our bond the freedom to share my least worthy
thought knowing that even when we disagreed he was on my side it’s beautiful Thank you. Kati Marton she is the author
of seven books this is her eighth she’s an award-winning former NPR and
ABC news correspondent she was married to the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke her memoir is Paris a Love Story it’s
published by Simon & Schuster Kati thanks so much for being on the
program thanks so much for having me it’s been a pleasure

3 thoughts on “Kati Marton on Her Marriages to Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke, Loss and Grief

  1. It is easy to see why Jennings and Holbrooke were attracted to Kati Marton. She is beautiful and is a highly intelligent woman. (About Mimi Geerges; my mother's name was Helena Marie; my dad called her "Mimi". ) my comment 05/17/2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *